Premier calls for action on Alberta’s oil price crisis at First Ministers’ Meeting in Montreal
Provincial and territorial leaders are meeting with the Prime Minister in Montreal on Friday for the First Ministers’ Meeting and a discussion on the impact of struggling oil prices on the energy industry in Canada was part of the agenda.
Energy sector discussions were absent from the original agenda for Friday’s meeting but were added after Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe sent letters to the Prime Minister earlier this week, urging him to add the topic to the itinerary.
The gathering is the fourth summit with premiers and Notley is demanding that Ottawa step up to help Alberta get its oil to tidewater for shipment to markets other than the United States.
She also wants Ottawa to scrap Bill C-69, legislation that would replace the National Energy Board with a new Canadian Energy Regulator and change the pipeline approval process.
Notley and Moe are concerned that the bill will deter investors in pipeline projects and that view is shared by some of the country’s other premiers.
“They understand that Alberta’s contribution to Canada’s fiscal framework is significant. They understand that citizens from across this country find work in Alberta. So I’m hoping there will be support for us to talk about this and come out with some meaningful pressure and changes,” said Notley as she was leaving for the summit from the Calgary airport on Thursday.
Notley announced on Sunday that the province will curb oil production by 325,000 barrels per day starting in January to deal with the oil price differential.
“The fact of the matter is, is that Alberta has to do well for Canada to do well. We’re already seeing today that forecasts for Canada’s economic growth are now more muted because of what’s going on right now with the differential,” she said.
She blames decades of failure and inaction by successive federal governments for the lack of pipeline capacity and has asked Ottawa to help the province pay for 7,000 railcars to help move about 120,000 barrels of oil per day starting in the New Year.
Notley says the price gap is costing Canada more than $80 million per day and that the cuts are necessary as there is currently 35 million barrels of oil sitting in storage and not enough capacity to transport it to market.
Alberta’s NDP government is spending $84,000 to run ads in Montreal newspapers and to project messages onto 20 buildings in the city to make the message clear.
"It is a huge contributor to our GDP, hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country," said Notley on her way into the meeting with Indigenous leaders.
Trudeau will also face opposition to his plan to impose a federal carbon tax next year at the closed door meeting.
Ontario premier Doug Ford, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, Moe and Manitoba's Brian Pallister have gone to court to stop what they refer to as Trudeau's ‘job-killing carbon tax.’
The Prime Minister is expected to get some support on the carbon tax proposal from B.C. Premier John Horgan and Quebec's Francois Legault, whose provinces were the first to impose carbon regimes.
Trudeau opened the meeting by acknowledging that there were a number of issues to discuss and said he’s willing to talk about whatever the leaders want.
"Of course, today the premiers and I will talk about how we can best support Canadians working in sectors that are currently facing significant challenges, whether they're oil and gas workers in Alberta hit hard by the price differential or GM workers in Oshawa," said Trudeau.
Notley spoke to reporters in the afternoon and said that the premiers received a presentation on the state of Canada’s economy. She said it acknowledged the price differential but she felt that it was only one side.
“I will admit that I did get my elbows up a little bit,” she said. “The upside is that we did have a pretty fulsome conversation about the issue that is facing Alberta and facing Canada.”
Notley said that it’s time to stop monitoring the problem and that action is needed.
“I specifically made requests to the government for short-term support for industry and workers in the oil patch,” she said. “Medium- term support in terms of rail capacity and then of course long-term support in terms of improving our ability to build infrastructure across this country to ensure we have fair value for our products.”
She said that the vast majority of the leaders supported most of what she had to say.
“So, we’ll see where it ends up, but pleased we were able to spend more time on the agenda talking about something that everyone understands is fundamentally important to the economic wellbeing of every Canadian.”
Notley said that she didn’t have anything tangible to take home to Albertans yet but that she made it clear what the province is looking for and that she will keep pushing and will go forward with the purchase of rail cars.
“We absolutely have control over how we organize how we move our products around this country and how we get our products to new markets.”
The meeting promises to be the most negative and likely the least productive First Ministers' meeting the Prime Minister has hosted.
(With files from The Canadian Press)